More poems and contributor notes in Chinese feature



Zhai Yongming

Zhai Yongming


There's always a butterfly calling her name in the night
suddenly she comes, with a smile like quicksilver
the moon is very cold, very ancient within her, already inborn
endowed on the two of them as one, often I attempt, gloomily
to fathom her gestures, but have nothing to show for it
But you barely twenty, standing
nailing this beautiful season
to the inevitable sentence
you still walk in that heartbreaking way
as if declaring an acutely poisonous attitude You're
calm like the countless beauties of a will-o'-the-wisp
your light renders the moon unable to cast down your shadow
Full of life, and yet so amazed
now who was it that silenced you?
a clear gaze aimed at all things, but
everything has left you
more and more swallows build there nests in your house
black opium poppies are hung in the windows as ornaments
your eyes become a snare, packed full of black nights
creeping oxalis plants wither in your hands
How did she learn this art? She dies
but leaves no trace, like the happy darting glance of October
brimming with confidence, emotive, and yet abruptly silent
eyes forever open, watching the sky

from Peaceful Village (a twelve poem cycle, 1985)

I'm nineteen, entirely ignorant . . . . .
Who could have foreseen I'd develop into a disease?
                 — in Peaceful Village, 1974

The First Month

As if it had always existed, as if all was already in order
I arrive, the noise has nothing to do with me
it settles me into a south-facing wing
My first time here I happened upon a pitch-black day
everywhere there were footpaths resembling faces
pale and lonely, the cold wind blew
at a moment like this the fields of corn are stirred up
I arrive here, I hear the howls from the double-fish star
and the endless trembling of a night full of feelings
Tiny haystacks scattered and solemn
The sole fragile cloud, solitary as a wild beast
approaches on tiptoe, reeking of foul weather
Those who I come across become hearts worth knowing
the long fishing rods slide across the water's surface, oil lamps flicker
the hoarse barking of dogs gives one pause
Yesterday the sound of a great wind appeared to comprehend it all
don't let in the black trees
in every corner murderous thoughts take up their places
enduring the moments spread over your body
now unfettered I can become the moonlight
In their dreams a married couple hears the patter of pre-dawn rain
By the stone mill black donkeys discuss the tomorrow
There, land of mingled dark and light
you know all its years like the palm of your hand
I hear a cock crow
and the windlass of a well

The Twelfth Month

Now the time has come to leave Peaceful Village
the mare's still stamping its black hooves
a north-westerly blows over a no-man's land
and a herd of calves thinks of war.....
So far the empty form can't be identified
the setting sun descends like pestilence, sitting atop the village
the heart's wound like a tree
the desires of white sap laid out by your hands, raised by your shout
you look up and see a flying saucer, a fortuitous appearance
you stealthily stroke the stone in your breast and kiss me as you leave
the entire village suffers your gloom
shoes full of sand, the smell of malt thick in the air
the sun is high and cold
with an effort you imagine it as a living thing with a brain
an aging woman shakes the suffering fish
In every corner, skulls full of dust
an arid smile is revealed on your face, a dark swaying shadow
The sound of footsteps rises up from beneath the earth, like flowing blood
butterflies see their own reflections go seeking refuge in death
Just like you, distance is the core of all things
I'm still the loner from a strange land on the earth's surface
From start to finish in this village where crows and sparrows are not heard
At this moment my ears hear the old tones of birth
A dull pain in my ribs
a once-approachable time opens for me the great gates of night
a girl stands in the gloaming
Grey horses, grey shadows of people
the sparks kicked up off the flagstones shine
A nauseous sensation falls on the roof like rain
An infant's dejection is born
we leave
bearing unfathomable bodies of flesh and blood
After all's said and done, I came here
and was liked by others
yet when I leave, I don't harbor good intentions
smoke brings tears to my eyes, my gaze directed towards
old wrinkles and the transmigrating part that suffers from sapped vitality

Translated by Michael Day